Since joining Parmigiani Fleurier as CEO in January 2021, Guido Terreni has been working on the Swiss watchmaker’s future strategy.
This elevated and luxurious brand has been catering to a niche consumer since 1996, and it continues to expand globally. Parmigiani Fleurier is one of the few luxury brands that are independent, and the founder, Michel Parmigiani, is still very much involved in the company. Its values are clear; understated luxury and fine watchmaking are at the heart of the brand, but its strategy and vision have been slightly realigned since Terreni joined. While it will never become a mass-market brand, Terreni is finding ways to refine the offering while widening its appeal to a slightly more diverse audience. This began with the launch of the Tonda PF collection last year, which has already seen great success. As the brand unveils its latest novelties including the Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante, Tonda PF Skeleton, Tonda PF Flying Tourbillon and Tonda GT Chronograph, we discover more through our latest chat with the renowned CEO.
Tell us about the vision and Parmigiani Fleurier since you joined and where would you like to take it?
I would like the brand to be recognised as a discreet luxury brand for people who are not ostentatious and who are deep and respectful in their choices. It’s a brand that is delicate in its soul and I would like to keep it that way and I think there are a lot of people who are feeling this. Where creativity pushes you forward, we don’t want to re-edit the past, on the contrary, I want to reinvent things and to have a dynamic approach in which people are having fun with luxury, not just showing off their wealth, that’s not who the Parmigiani Fleurier client is, our clients show off their knowledge and their understanding of luxury. It’s an educated, intimate choice. I think there are a lot of people that are quiet in their choices and are looking for something like this. Our products make you feel elegant, refined, subtle and different from the crowd but not in an extravagant way. These are the values that we want to share, and they are built on competence and understanding, and we want to express this in a creative, fresh, serene way.
When you joined the brand and saw the product assortment what did you tell yourself you wanted to start with?
I told myself that we must go back to the drawing board and redefine our soul because I felt that the brand had aged with its clientele, and it needed to be refreshed. But we had to do that while respecting our values. I think luxury must be about the product, I don’t believe in selling through pure storytelling, if there is no product in the story there is no story at all. The higher-end the brand, the more important the product is, and it has to be part of the equation. So, the priority was to ask ourselves who we are, who we want to be and how we want to be. After we did that, the Tonda PF came out quite quickly because when you are deep into answering these kinds of questions and it allows you to understand who you are. This watch and how it’s designed it’s respecting the same values; it’s not loud, it’s fresh and there is a coherent message and aesthetic codes that were already part of the brand. We did a lot of introspection and the COVID-19 pandemic helped us as it gave us time to reset. We worked hard on trying to define what we wanted. It had to be comfortable, it had to be long-lasting in its design, and it had to be subtle in its aesthetic choices. We dug into our aesthetic codes that were already there and reinterpreted them into this watch. There are a lot of details in something that seems so simple. It is so complex and there is a tension between the idea that it needed to be immediately understandable and intuitive, with the making of a watch that is extremely refined, and this is difficult to do. This is what we call “rich minimalism” because the effect and look are minimal, but the process is extremely difficult and expensive to do. You find those details only by looking at them closely and if you don’t have an educated eye, you will probably miss them. We say we apply a sartorial approach to watchmaking, looking into what can be the signature style or refinement.
What in your opinion are the pre-requisites for a product to become an icon?
There are plenty of things that make something an icon. First of all, the creative idea has to be understood and it has to be long-lasting. With the Tonda PF we toned down every element in the idea, but we didn’t tone down the watchmaking element of it and this is the best ingredient in something becoming an icon. Being long-lasting in its design is one element but then you must have a brand which is prestigious and can be consistent. Then you must have a client that carries you because the client is part of the image of the brand. These are all the elements that you have to build on and align through a strategy that is pure and without compromise. You must do it in the right way, and you can’t have shortcuts when you’re creating an icon.
What are the challenges you face today in your role and achieving the company’s objectives?
The first challenge is almost overcome because it was a change of mindset inside Parmigiani Fleurier. Resistance to change is natural and I am very proud because we have transformed the company but with the same people who were there before. Transforming what people can do and making them do things that they didn’t even know they could do is part of what a leader should do. It’s about getting the best out of people and that is what we have done. Of course, we could not travel so we were restricted in that sense, there are teams around the world that I still haven’t met, in China and Hong Kong for example, so it’s disturbing to me to lead a brand without physical contact and meeting people in person and this is also a challenge. But the turning moment was in Geneva when we presented our collection and I felt that the salespeople were starting to believe that it is possible to do new things and that the new watches will complement the existing offering that we have. From the beginning, my idea was that they would coexist. Then when you receive the complements of the trade, and you see the sales which are still surprising me today as I didn’t imagine such a quick response. The response has been unimaginable.
It is in the brand’s DNA not to overproduce and to keep itself exclusive – are there any plans to expand on this?
I do think there is work to be done in terms of how we manage the power of supply, but we have the capacity to grow. We don’t want to become a mass-produced brand but there are ways we can cater to a slightly wider audience. We will still be at a relatively small capacity but there is some room for expansion. We need to be very disciplined in what we do and we have to be respectful not to overdo it or create too many references.
What is in the pipeline globally for the brand this year?
The priority is the reduction of our points of sale. Previously the brand had been pushing distribution to sell, now, on the contrary, we are in a demanding situation so it’s easier now to refine where we sell our products. It’s a question of priority and we will pick those who we understand and believe in us. The belief in your partnerships and distribution is a key growth factor, but it can also be a negative factor if it is mismanaged. It’s like a marriage – the two must have the same long-term vision and we have to ensure they are not exploiting our brand in any way. I want to work with distributors who share our vision and priorities and understand the brand and their clientele.
What is something you still aim to achieve?
Working on the product is natural for anyone in watchmaking, but the communication side is the most difficult part because when you have an understated client you need to know how to talk to a discreet person in the right way. And I think finding the right tone of voice in our communication is something that we are still working on.
Do you think that now is the moment for independent brands to step forward into the spotlight?
I think that independent brands or niche brands have a beautiful future if they know why they exist. If you know your reason for being and you stick to that, you can do very well, but if you are trying to be something that you’re not, then you should change business. So yes, independent brands are important, and they are enjoying a big moment because they are creative and experimental and because they are coveted by people who are starting to get fed up with seeing the same watches again and again. So, it is the rise of interesting brands that have a human relationship in their business.
What is a message you would send to your clients and our readers in the Middle East?
I think the brand is interesting to people who are looking at luxury not in a stereotypical way. It’s not a brand for followers but it is a brand that speaks to independent minds.
How would you describe the brand in one word?
Understated refinement – it’s two words!